Over the festive period, there is a possibility that Darren Fletcher could rack up his 150th appearance for Manchester United, which, in a squad so crowded with stars, is a real achievement. It has, however, taken the midfielder six and a half seasons to reach that total, something which he readily admits to finding a little frustrating. But whereas once he was regarded as a fringe player, he now is an integral part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
Fletcher has been rewarded for his application and patient attitude with a haul of medals that would make most professional footballers turn green with envy. At the age of 25, the Scotland captain has won the Premier League three times, the FA Cup and English League Cup once apiece, as well as the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup. FIFA.com visited the Trafford Training Centre in Carrington to chat to the softly spoken player about the past, present and future.
FIFA.com: Darren, you're often referred to as a 'big-game player’. Is that a tag you like?
Darren Fletcher: It’s something that I take with a pinch of salt. It’s a compliment in many ways, but when a big game comes up, there are some that say, 'all the pressure is on you'. I just go out there and give 100 per cent in every single game, but I do admit that I really relish the atmosphere of the big games, such as the latter stages of the Champions League. I never get nervous before them. I really like to challenge myself against the best midfielders in the world.
It’s not so long ago that you were linked with a move away from Old Trafford. Were you becoming frustrated with the lack of first-team appearances?
Yes, but that’s not surprising because every player wants to play every week. We have a policy here of rotating the squad, but I was finding myself on the sidelines a lot, which was frustrating. A couple of seasons ago, I had to have a long, hard think about what was the best for me. I spoke to the manager about it. He was desperate for me to stay and I wanted to stay. Thankfully, it’s paid off. I’m playing a lot more regularly and I’m enjoying my football.
So, in terms of you staying at the club, did you change your mentality or style of play in order to push yourself into Sir Alex Ferguson's plans?
I made a conscious effort to become a little more selfish on the pitch in terms of getting myself in goalscoring opportunities. In the past, I thought about the possibility of other teams catching us on the break and covering for counter-attacks, so I began to think more positively. Then, when I did get a chance, my objective was to put in a performance which would see me on the team-sheet for the next game. We’ve got a great squad, with so many gifted players who can come in if you’re not reaching a certain level that you have to be at the top of your game every week.
Obviously, staying has paid off handsomely in terms of silverware, and United were crowned champions at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008. What are your memories of that?
It was a first for me. Travelling to Japan in mid-season was difficult in terms of being away from the family, but the opportunity to play in a Club World Cup might only happen once in my career. That’s why we went with the intention of winning it. It was a memorable occasion. The set-up was great, so were the stadiums and our opponents, and to be crowned world champions is something that we were very proud of. We want to do that again.
The last thing Sir Alex Ferguson says to you before a game is ‘enjoy yourself’, but given the importance of the matches you play in – and the expectation of 70,000 fans at Old Trafford - is that possible?
Yes, it is. There’s pressure in every single game you play for Manchester United, it’s something that you get used to. At first it can be a little bit difficult to deal with, but then you realise that it’s just part and parcel of the territory – you’re expected to win every single game you play in. In time, it helps to drive you on and get you up for every game. I think what the manager is trying to get across to us is that you play better when you enjoy yourself.
Because of the captaincy and the fact that you are a Manchester United player, do you feel more pressure when playing for Scotland?
I think there is pressure on me, as being captain, but I put that pressure on myself. Plus, when people see me play for Manchester United and win things, they expect the same level of performance when I play for Scotland – and rightly so. I’m passionate about playing for my country. I’m desperate to get to a major competition and if that doesn’t happen, I’m going to take the criticism.
On a serious point, you are the only representative playing for one of the Premier League’s so-called ‘big four’. Does that disappoint you in terms of Scotland’s future?
It’s a difficult question. Scotland have two massive clubs in Celtic and Rangers and, although I would like to see more players in the Premier League from Scotland, you have to remember that they play in the Champions League regularly and players from those clubs might not see the need in coming to England to play. It was always an ambition of mine to come to the Premier League and I’ve been very fortunate in having been able to do that. So, yes, I do think more Scottish players should come down and get the great footballing education that’s on offer here.
What are your targets for the season?
The same as every season: every competition we enter, we want to win. Champions League and Premier League are priorities. To win the Premier League four times in a row, which has never been achieved, is a great motivating factor for us and we’re desperate to win the Champions League again following our disappointment in Rome last year.